While we are in our mother’s womb, our developing hands lay curled in tiny fists, fingers folded tightly into the centre of our hands, carving lines into our palms that some say define our futures. At birth, our fists unfold, revealing destinies unknown. 

In our social movements for justice, our futures are written in our fists too- fists held high in protests; hands held in solidarity; fists that hold maps to new beginnings, lift earth, create new worlds. 

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.Sit along the boulevards of Mar Mikhael, the epicentre of Beirut’s nightlife and one of its most affluent neighbourhoods, drink in hand, and you can almost forget that you are in the epicentre of displacement and migration,  It is a neighbourhood of tremendous social freedom and pleasure, for some, yet for migrant workers indispensable for its functioning, it is a place of deep isolation, exploitation, and invisibility. 

Between these sleek cafes graffiti shouts “maids not slaves!”- a call to end the exploitative migrant visa sponsorship (kafala) system.

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

At the boundaries of Mar Mikhael, Human Rights Defenders from across Lebanon’s social movements gathered for the Fearless ritual on Unclenching our Fists.

Here we found 

Mother and daughter, Syrian refugees defending women and children’s rights 

Here we found- fire

Ethiopian and Sri Lankan domestic workers demanding the abolition of the exploitative Kafala system 

Here we found- protection 

Lebanese women fighting for child custody from abusive husbands protected under Lebanon’s paternalistic laws 

Here we found- our voice again 

Journalists combating press censorship

Speaking many tongues we introduced ourselves through our lifelines, anchoring our stories in mothers, daughters, friends, and communities.

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

Our Fearless ritual explored emotions stored within our bodies as activists to understand the composition of bravery. 

Sitting beneath a makeshift tent, candlelit, enveloped in wafts of sweet incense smoke, we used our fists, as one does in protests, to create a new rhythm for our movements. 

Beating fists into flattened hands and raising them proudly in the air in unison, we asked collectively and answered individually: 

In the past, what could not break you?

Fists defiantly raised, each person spoke of what tried to crush them, but failed to. Inherent in each story was the source of their resilience. 
In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

In the second part of our ritual, we stretched our bodies onto the ground, stomachs pressed against thighs, arms reaching out, palms lifted to the sky, physically embodying (if only for a moment)

Stillness

Surrender

Release 

(we breath)

And answer the question:

What does the future hold?

Visions for futures built by the everyday work of human rights defenders unfolded: 

In the future, I want to see a woman leader, independent women (everywhere)

In the future, God willing, our country will be better (ours again)

I hope to live in peace, me and all the people in all countries

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

How do we see ourselves in the future?

We began drawing on images of strength as resilience: activists, fists up, brooms and sickles in hand- images of Labour and Power. But as we thought more about the futures we truly desire, another image emerged. 

Perhaps we no longer want to work as hard, protest, struggle, burn out. 

Resting against each others’ backs, nestled amongst calming herbs- three migrant labourers share a cup of tea, relaxed in a garden. 

What does the future hold?

The Right to Rest. For everyone.

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

Fearless work is part visual arts, part performance arts: in the streets, as we trace the lines of these (now) familiar faces on walls, we are embodying the safe and sacred future spaces we want to live in. 

With Arabic music drifting out of bars, a group of migrant labourers, who would usually only be seen serving, cleaning, or cooking in these spaces, took to the streets (fists wrapped around paintbrushes) to reimagine themselves. 

People passed by, asking “what brings you all together?”

The possibility of reimagined futures does. A shared emotional journey does. A new landscape of compassion does. 

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

Throughout the week community members unclenched their fists, dipped brushes in shades of lavender and sage, and inscribed their hopes and dreams on open palms. Posing with written futures on their palms, workshop participants, many of whom are often underrepresented in public spaces and policies, crafted portraits that became wheatpastes displayed on the elite streets of Mar Mikhael, the epicenter of Beirut’s nightlife. 

For people who are too often invisible in society, these portraits are a way to reclaim their identities as migrants, refugees and human rights activists.

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

“I started to fight for women’s rights since my childhood. In my future I will be a leader for my community.”

Tanya (pictured) – Sri Lankan domestic worker rights leader, & aspiring chef and co-author of this poem: 

What does the future hold? 

open my fist 

spread my palm wide and

look at the lines formed like 

future rivers- for new civilisations 

to be built (by hand)

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

“I have been through a lot with struggle and migration…The things that we are facing as domestic workers. It’s making me cry and break my heart… (we are)  losing a lot of our sisters, domestic workers. They are dying every day.That breaks my heart. But it will not break me. We can fight. We can come together and build  community with leaders, women leaders.Leaders who will share all information… I will be strong. I did a lot of things that people said I cannot do it; Me and other women.” 

Tsigerada, Migrant Worker & Community Organizer of EngnaLenga, an Ethiopian led initiative for Migrant rights  

What does the future hold? 

In my future I see leaders 

who are women (like me);

in the future there will 

be chamomile, cedar, 

honey, tea. 

I will return to the garden.

(it was made for me)In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.“The past and the war that happened…  our rights were lost. But I am stronger than this because I am sure the future will be better after the war and unfairness and destruction and bombs…We are stronger than this.” 

 – Raghad, 17, Syrian Children and Refugee Rights Activist, Lebanon

What does the future hold? 

The future holds you and me 

coming together

borders, a thing of the past,

For verily with hardship must come ease 

فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

As we translated this poem, inscribing it on the wall in four languages- Arabic, Amharic, English, Sinhalese,- linguistic and intergenerational challenges emerged. 

How does it feel to cross geographies, but keep your tongue(s) intact?

In Sinhalese “bare-chested” drew strong connotations of erotic nakedness- imagery that some were uncomfortable associating with; others, for the sake of poetry, beauty, and body insisted we ignore judgments,

What will we speak into existence?

Can we consciously reclaim words that were used to hurt, inventing new words, as new worlds unfold? 

Finally, we found- a middle ground, translucent –  free enough, erotic enough, safe enough. 

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

Our (new) community gathered to celebrate the mural:

A domestic worker walked into a bar wearing work clothes and changed into a magnificent traditional outfit , while a group of Syrian-Palestinian men taught the Dabke. Beneath rest-filled eyes on the mural, we feasted on home-cooked Sri Lankan curries and Palestinian meats, in our makeshift garden of ease. 

The Sinhalese text in the affirmation caught the eye of the security guard next door, reminding him of home. He joined us and was asked to write what his future holds, he wrote: “this mural is our future.” 

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

One by one, those who had joined us for the workshop, or with paint brushes, or stopped by with steaming cups of tea, or cleared debris, inscribed their responses to “what does our future hold?” onto the wall. 

One of the founders of the MCC and Lebanon’s Anti-Racism movement wrote: “we are here to stay”

Another hand inscribed: “tolerance”

Someone else: “equity”

Together, this diverse (improbable, essential) community claimed their existence and affirmed their viability in the streets, revelling, dancing, laughing, like many other in Mar Mikhael that night. 

“Our Existence is an act of Resistance” 

In Lebanon, women from refugee and migrant communities face exploitative working conditions, poor living conditions, violence and racism but together migrant community leaders are speaking out against abuse and exploitation, building worlds with their palms every day. Amnesty International partnered with storytelling organization Fearless Collective to create a mural in the heart of Beirut honouring their advocacy work. They drew inspiration from the power of the fist, exploring how it’s integral to our fight for justice. Our futures are written in our fists. Fists are held high in protests, hands held in solidarity. Fists hold maps to new beginnings and can lift earth and create new worlds. Copyright Credit: Jenny Jacklin Stratton | ©Fearless Collective/Amnesty International Agreement Notes: Can be used for comms purposes.

On a wall, on a side street in the buzzing, upmarket neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael, Beirut, tucked next to the imposing concrete government structure of the Electricte du Libon, three people from different corners of the globe rest into each others’ arms, deep in conversation, sharing a cup of tea. One says, proudly, “My Existence is an act of Resistance,” and poetry in four tongues cascades from her hands. 

This group, usually only seen working in this neighbourhood, rest, nestled in lavender bushes and chamomile flowers, proclaiming their existence and their right to a future of rest and ease. 

———-

This project is a collaboration between Fearless Collective and Amnesty International.

More Information & Take Action 

Lead Artwork by: Shilo Shiv Suleman/Fearless Collective

Text written by: Cassie Denbow/Fearless Collective

Photography by: Jenny Jacklin-Stratton/Fearless Collective

Editorial Support by: Angela Singh/Amnesty International

With gratitude to The Migrant Community Center and the many individual hearts & palms who made this project (and new futures) possible, with special thanks to Ambra, Lynn and Saleh for their fearless guidance of this work.